Note: The information presented here is an abbreviated version of our formal General Information for this tour. Its purpose is solely to give readers a sense of what might be involved if they take this tour. Although we do our best to make sure that what follows here is completely accurate, it should not be used as a replacement for the formal document which will be sent to all tour registrants, and whose contents supersedes any information contained here.
ENTERING THE UNITED STATES: Non-US citizens need a passport, valid for at least six months after the date the tour ends, and may need a tourist visa or visa waiver. Consult your nearest US Embassy or consulate for details. Canadian citizens should carry proof of citizenship in the form of a passport. If required by the embassy or visa-granting entity, WINGS can provide a letter for you to use regarding your participation in the tour.
COUNTRY INFORMATION:There is no U.S. Department of State Country Specific Travel Information for the USA. You can access the UK Government Foreign Travel advice for the USA at https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/usa , and the CIA World Factbook background notes on the United States at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/us.html .
PACE OF THE TOURS: Birding in the Bering Sea Islands in fall is generally more strenuous than in spring. While in the spring most of the islands are covered in snow, or very little vegetation making the area that we can cover relatively small, the fall is warmer, with taller vegetation (even lush in the Pribilofs). To dig out vagrant passerines it is usually necessary to walk through patches of vegetation and along the leeward side of hills. It is possible for those who wish to walk less to remain by the road and come out only if we find something, but the more people that walk the more we find. Shorebirds may also require some legwork, although many of the ponds will have nice muddy rings that can be scoped comfortably from a distance. At Gambell we use ATVs to go between sites, so walks are generally short (much less than a mile) in duration. On Saint Paul we have the use of vans, but the areas that we cover are much larger than the boneyards of Gambell, so we may walk five miles or more over the course of a day (in short streches). The days will be broken up by meals, with an outing after breakfast, after lunch, and after dinner. Since we use only one lodge per island, a person can easily opt out of any of the excursions if desired.
HEALTH: Alaska presents no major health hazards
Altitude: We reach no appreciable heights on the tour, as we remain below 1200 ft (in Nome) and under 300 ft above sea level at Gambell and on the Pribilofs.
Isolation: Participants on trips to remote parts of Alaska should understand that they will be isolated from all but rudimentary medical care and that air transport to a hospital can easily be prevented by bad weather. Reasonably good health should be considered a prerequisite for trips here. On Saint Paul there is a modern clinic staffed by a Physician’s Assistant.; most basic care is easily provided at the clinic but more sophisticated care requires air evacuation to Anchorage. If you have any chronic condition such as diabetes, asthma, angina, etc. not thoroughly described in your booking form, please notify the WINGS office.
Adequate Clothing: The most serious predictable problems stem from the use of inadequate gear. Warm and waterproof clothing and boots, and sturdy walking boots are absolutely essential. Please study the clothing recommendations below. Periods of rain are inevitable. Comfort in Alaska is first and foremost a matter of keeping warm and dry. Note that our fall tours can encounter remarkably nice weather with sun and temperatures in the 50s (which feels surprisingly hot). Temperatures at Gambell especially can also be in the low 40’s with high winds. Please remember to pack gear for this eventuality.
Walking: Although we have full-time use of ATVs at Gambell and 15 passenger vans on Saint Paul, participants should still expect to do a fair amount of walking (perhaps as much as 5 miles a day) over uneven terrain, gravel, the craters and mounds of the “boneyards”, and spongy tundra. Tour participants must be in sufficient shape to withstand this. See the “Pace of the Tour” section for further elaboration.
Insects: Biting insects such as mosquitoes do not occur at Gambell or Saint Paul. During late August or early September, they are also unlikely in any numbers that would be considered bothersome even around Nome or Anchorage.
Mammals: Although large mammals are potentially dangerous, they pose little threat if a few common sense rules are followed. Although grizzly bear and others are seen around Nome, we’ve never had anything like a dangerous encounter with a wild mammal. No such animals occur around Gambell or Saint Paul.
Smoking: Smoking is prohibited in the vehicles or when the group is gathered for meals, checklists, etc. If you are sharing a room with a nonsmoker, please do not smoke in the room. If you smoke in the field, do so well away and downwind from the group. If any location where the group is gathered has a stricter policy than the WINGS policy, that stricter policy will prevail.
CLIMATE: Coastal weather is normally cool to cold. Gambell and Nome experience freezing temperatures into late June (and beginning again in late September). Maximums at Nome are usually in the high 40s and low 50s F. At Gambell in late August and early September, expect temperatures in the 40s. Wind and drizzle or rain can occur frequently, often in rapidly changing combinations. Temperatures tend to be a few degrees warmer, with less rain in the Pribilofs, and occasionally in September folks are walking around in t-shirts and even shorts!
Sivuqaq Inn, Gambell: The Sivuqaq Inn consists of nine bedrooms (double occupancy), four of which are in the main lodge and the remainder in the annex. Single accommodation may not be available at Gambell. There are six bathrooms with flush toilets; four of the bathrooms have showers. Internet is available most (but not all) of the time but there may be a per-day charge for this service. WIFI is available but slow, and can drop out for hours or even days at a time. Cell phones do not work at Gambell unless you gave a “GCI” Alaska based phone or sim card (available in Nome). We will arrange for the services of a cook while we are on the island.
King Eider Hotel, St Paul, Pribilofs: We will stay in the hotel wing at the airport, a basic but comfortable hallway with 20 rooms, shared bathrooms, and a lounge. WIFI is either excellent or absent, depending upon the week.
FOOD: Our dinners in Anchorage and Nome are in standard restaurants. At Gambell the meals we offer are very different from anything else offered on any other WINGS tour, as one of our staff acts as our own cook – planning the menu in advance, shipping non-perishables several weeks early, shopping in Anchorage for perishables two days prior to the tour, and preparing all of our meals in the Sivuqaq Inn kitchen. A hot breakfast, lunch with soups and sandwiches, and hearty dinners. As mentioned elsewhere, there is no alcohol at Gambell, so drinks are limited to water, coffee, tea, and juices prepared from concentrate.
Snacks are always available, including fresh fruit, mixed nuts, energy or other granola bars, popcorn, and occasional baked goods. Meal times are flexible, depending on other groups sharing the kitchen and dining facilities; any participant who needs to eat earlier or later than the times scheduled for the group should merely let the cook know; leftovers are usually available and can be reheated at any time.
On the Pribilof Islands all of our meals are taken in the Trident Seafood Plant, where they serve buffet style, with a wide range of options including a salad bar (and fantastically fresh halibut).
Please contact the WINGS office if you have any questions.
Food Allergies / Requirements: We cannot guarantee that all food allergies can be accommodated at every destination. Participants with significant food allergies or special dietary requirements should bring appropriate foods with them for those times when their needs cannot be met. Announced meal times are always approximate depending on how the day unfolds. Participants who need to eat according to a fixed schedule should bring supplemental food. Please contact the WINGS office if you have any questions.
Alcohol: Please be aware that St Lawrence Island (including Gambell) is “dry” and it is illegal to bring alcoholic beverages of any kind onto the island. Beer and wine are available for purchase at the local store on Saint Paul Island.
TRANSPORTATION: At Gambell we’ll provide one ATV per every two people. We’ll provide a brief course in ATV operation at the start of our stay but each participant will be asked to sign a specific liability waiver in which they will acknowledge that the operation of an ATV involves some risk. Please note as well that there will be many situations where the leaders, for birding reasons, will ask the group to walk. All participants traveling to Gambell should be in good physical shape. At Saint Paul we will be traveling by 15 passenger vans or small 21 seat buses. The internal flights are on commercial airlines (Alaskan Airlines, its subsidiary Peninsula Airways or Bering Air).
Updated: 22 September 2016